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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  January 11, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST

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tavis: good evening, from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with one of hollywood's most popular and acclaimed leading men, jeff bridges. 2011 is shaping to be a banner year for this oscar winner. in addition to the blockbuster "tron," he also appears in true grit. on pbs, you can catch the season premiere of american masters. tonight i'll have some thoughts on the situation in haiti as we approach the one-year anniversary since the devastating earthquake that struck this impoverished island nation. one year, the situation remains dire. we're glad you joined us. our conversation with jeff bridges and a look at haiti one year later coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help
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with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> nationwide is on your side >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. pfund pfund -- [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: a few programming notes. first tonight, this is the beginning of our eighth season here on pbs. we think we have a great lineup to begin our season this week. before that, next week on this
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programming starting tuesday night, we'll bring you three nights of an event we're hosting in washington, d.c. it's called "america's next chapter." i'll be joined by high profile bipartisan panel for a look at the current and future state of america including the debate over the corrosive nature of our political discourse. that conversation, of course, now front and center in american public life following events in to youson over the weekend. our thoughts and prayers go it to those affected by the senseless tragedy. tomorrow night i'll be joined by elizabeth warren on her role in the protect bureau. halle berry and then rose anbar. on friday night, graham in addition will you here along with david duchovny. one week from tonight on the holiday honoring dr. king we'll be joined by dr. king's long-time attorney and speech writer, clay republicans b. jones and music icon stevie
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wonder on the 25th anniversary of the national holiday honoring this great civil rights icon. tonight, i could not think of a better way to kick off 2011 then to spend some time with the man who has not one but two blockbuster films in theaters right now, jeff bridges, the oscar-winning actor stars in both "tron" and true grit. thanks to a standout performance in true grit, he is once again at the center about this year's best acting performances. on wednesday night here on pbs, you can catch the season premiere of american masters featuring one jeff bridges. the terrific episode is called the dude abides. more on that in a moment. first, though, from the film everybody is talking about, a scene from true grit. >> in conscience, you cannot sign our agreement. you're the one who shot me. >> there is a court marshall. it isn't an unfair leg to shoot somebody. >> i didn't shoot him. there are plenty of guns going
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off. >> i heard the rifle and i felt the ball. you missed your shot, cogburn. >> missed my shot? >> you're more handicapped without the eye than i was without the arm. >> i can the broadside of a barn. [gunfire] >> they are running that cheap shells on me again. >> i thought you were going to say the sun is in your eyes. that is to say, your eye. >> true grit has exceeded all expectations at the box office. this weekend it sold more tickets than any other film in the country. jeff bridges joins us tonight from santa barbara. jeff, an honor to have you back on this program. you're on a satellite, i'm glad to have a chance as busy as you are just to talk to you tonight, sir. >> wonderful to be here, tavis, thanks for having me. tavis: what do you make of the fact that you got the two
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hottest movies in the country at the same time. did you plan it this way? >> no. i didn't have any idea it would come out so close together. you never can count on something like that, but it's a little bizarre, i must say. tavis: let me take them one at a time. i'll start with "tron" in no particular order in part when "tron" came out back in the day, the first time around, obviously, it developed a loyal fouling for sure. it didn't become the blockbuster box office that this one is. what gives? what makes the difference? >> maybe it's the technology thing. this new one makes the old one look like a black and white tv show. what brought me to both of those films was pretty much the same thing. i was really anxious to get to play with all of the latest technology that our industry has to offer. this new one, you know, i got to
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experience what making movies without cameras is like. tavis: so, what is that like for you? >> it's very bizarre. for one thing, you don't have any costumes, no makeup, no sets and no cameras. everything is done in post. from the performing side of things, i wear a leotard with a bunch of glowing balls glued all over it and black dots on my face. it's very, very different experience. it actually, it really requires you to kind of think back when you were a kid and play pretend where you didn't have all of those great costumes and props and all of that stuff. tavis: to the point you're making now, jeff, for a true artist, a real artist like yourself who takes his work seriously, is that kind of movie making a greater challenge, lesser challenge, about the same
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to get the craft out of you? >> yeah. well, it's a different shot that you have to have in your kit bag. it is challenging. i'm not used to. i kind of like to have a costume and a set. that helps me to kind of get into the character. so when i started out, there was a warming-up period you know, where i had to give up some of my resentment for not getting the way i like it and get with the program. once i did, it was fun, strange, bizarre. tavis: watching you go through this strange and bizarre phase and seeing it on the big screen and everybody is seeing it in huge numbers, now that you have seen the work and the technology, you think what of it? >> well, it's mind-blowing. joe, our director, he is an architect as well, so there is a wonderful sense of design and you really get a feeling that
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the grid is a real place. all of the action sequences are tremendous and then another element that i was very curious about and excited about was i get to play myself at a younger age in this movie, which is terrific for an actor because now i can play any character that i'm playing with. i can play at whatever age the script requires rather than having an younger or an older actor play the guy, it can be me. that's kind of a cool thing. it was odd seeing -- it was odd seeing myself as a young guy up there, you know, because it wasn't actually me as a young person, but it was a different, wonderful artist, the rendering of me at that age. i think they were kind of
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seeroing in on how i -- zeroing in on "against all odds," a movie i made 20, 30 years ago. tavis: it's a great film, i love that movie. before i move on to true grit, let me ask you one about "tron." it's easy to get caught up in the fancy technology and think it's going to turn a bunch of kids on. storyline in this business still matters. talk to me about the importance of the storyline in "tron" and not just the high-tech stuff? >> yeah, i'm glad you brought that up. while i was excited to participate in all of that high-tech stuff, i also didn't want to get onboard if the story wasn't going to be any good. and as they pitched the basic idea to me, i said, oh, we have a chance to kind of create a modern-day myth about technology. myths are wonderful tools that we had for eons now that help us
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navigate the situations we find ourselves in. right now, i think we could use some help how to navigate these technological waters we find ourselves in, because you can get to a place very fast nowadays that you might not want to be in once you realize where you are. so this is sort of a cautionary tale a bit and the title of the film is "tron" legacy so in a way, it's asking, i think, what kind of legacy are we going to leave our kids, what kind of help can we give them as far as pointing them in the right direction. tavis: to the point you raise now because it's such a juicy tidbit, i got to get you unpack it from your own perspective. when you talk about and think about the legacy that we're leaving for our children where technology, etc., is concerned, what do you make of it? >> well, you know, it's a
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wonderful opportunity to bring us closer together, bring the world together with this internet, but it also can kind of drive us farther apart we can get in our own private words and make that a magical place and not really think of the rest of the world. i think that's where the trouble lies because we're all connected. we're all in this together. the gap between those who are hip to the computer and the internet and those who aren't, that gets wider and wider and can drive us farther apart. so we have to be conscious of that. tavis: i take it and i hear you and i agree with it. let me move on to the other blockbuster hit. we could talk about tron legacy and now we go to true grit. this is a remake. you keep hearing the john wayne
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comparisons so this remake language is out there. as i read a little deeper in this, what sold you on this was not that it was a remake, but that the coen brothers were going to make the movie based on the book. it's a redo, not a remake? >> that is perfectly stated, absolutely. there was a wonderful novel in the 1960's called "true grit," and when the coen brothers first came to me with the idea of making "true grit," i said, well, why do you want to do that? you were saying there is already that movie. they said we're not interested in that. we're going to the book. have you read the book? i said no. so once i did read the book, i saw what they were talking about. the book reads like a coen brothers' script. it's full of wonderful characters, a lot of twists and turns. so i said, i jumped onboard
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after i read that book. of course, i was happy they enjoyed the book so much because the coen brothers, you can't get any better than those guys. they're real masters. tavis: are there two or three things that you can point to quick for me and the audience that are quite different between the movie, i'm talking about the movie, the john wayne classic, and the book, things that pulled you in that were uniquely different? >> well, i would say the tone is quite a bit different as far as the darkness of this one. it's a bit more violent. a lot of comedy in it, though. and execution is everything depending on what the actors are and who the directors are and all of that stuff. that changes everything. tavis: when you look at a script like this, jeff, and read a book like this, i should say, and you know the character that you're being asked to play, on this
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particular character, we see what you have brought to the scene, to the screen, that is, what did you think was -- what did you think this character was offering you by way of opportunity to show us on the screen where your chops are concerned? >> well, i don't think of it -- any movie they get involved with, i don't think of it in those terms, how it's going to show me off or anything. i usually have to get turned on to the story and the people that i'm working with. that's what really brings me onboard. tavis: what about this cast? >> oh, man! what about haley steinfeld, this girl. 13 years old when she did the movie. did she come up with the goods? she was wonderful. you got matt da together. i have admired him for so many years, a great actor.
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josh brolin, a great cast. tavis: i keep hearing and reading people suggest that this may indicate, the success of "true grit" may indicate that westerns are back. my take on that is a bit different. it doesn't mean that westerns are back. it means that a good book may have a good chance of becoming a good movie, but it doesn't necessarily mean that westerns are back. what is your take on that? >> well, i hope westerns are coming back. a lot of people think that i was part of a movie that a lot of people say put the nail in the coffin of westerns, "heaven's gate." now, for my money, that was a brilliant film, kind of a classic in its own right and maybe with the success of this, people will start to revisit that film. i hope we see more of westerns. the "unfor given," clint's movie that came out quite a few years ago was i think maybe the
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beginning of bringing the westerns back. like you say, a good book, find that story, that's key. tavis: there is always talk in this town, jeff, as you know about the value or lack thereafter of an oscar and there is this debate that what happens when you win an academy award, what happens to the movie and your career. tell me as you see it what the academy award did for you relative to this moment or nothing at all. >> well, it was interesting, the hoopla with all of the awards season is kind of mind boggling and kind of puts you on your heels. right after that was all over, i went right to work on "true grit." so i didn't have too much of time to celebrate or anything, i
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went right back to work. now i notice i'm noticed more on the street, that sort of thing. one of the positive sides of fame, because i think it's kind of a double-edged sword, the downside, especially for an actor is you become famous, you lose some of your anonymity. it's wonderful for an actor to have because you can observe people and also people don't have such a strong sense of who you are and that sort of thing. so when they see you in a movie, they can accept you as that character a little easier. that's kind of a downside of it. but the upside is that it raises my profile so i can bring attention to some things that i'm concerned about and i think other people should be concerned about. i'm currently the national spokesperson for a campaign called no kid hungry, an organization called share our
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strength has developed. i'm very excited about that. it's all about ending childhood hunger by 2015 here in our country. and so i have been involved with the hunger issue for about 30 years now. this particular campaign is very exciting because, well, it's got good news and bad news. the bad news is that according to the department of agriculture, we currently have 17 million children in this country living in food insecure homes. those are households where the kid is not certain to get enough nutrition to lead a healthy and active life that is one in four of our kids if you can believe that. the good news is that there are programs already in place like the food stamp program, it's
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called snap now, the school meal programs and the w.i.c. programs, the women and children feeding programs, they're already in place. they're financed to the tune of $1 billion. this $1 billion is available to states, but it's not being used for various reasons and so this no kid hungry campaign is working with governors and mayor's with five states each year we're concentrating on those states and we're working with them in the private sector as well as public sector, the government, to find out why that money is not being used and how, what we can do to change that. so that's something i would like to encourage the viewers on to go to no kid and take the no kid hungry pledge and find out how they might help end
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childhood hunger by 2015. tavis: i'm glad you led me there. since we're there, let's keep talking about this. it raises for me a pretty central question, jeff, and that is how it is, why it is that you think that we can in fact end childhood hunger by 2015. that's four years away. i raise that because it seems to me that the things that get most of the attention in washington tend to be issued connected to folk who can punish or reward elected officials with their votes. and the thing that so often is unfair to children in this country but how they get maltreated by our government is they have no vote. >> they have no vote. tavis: exactly. >> absolutely. tavis: how is their issue going to be addressed do you think by 2015? >> i have some ideas up my sleeve. one thing i want to do is create something called ring around congress. it would be a state deal and also a national thing where the
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kids, a field trip, will go and join hands around congress and give the politicians report cards on how they're voting on hunger issues. tavis: i like it i like it, i like it. >> something like that. but this problem of our kids going hungry in this country is so important to address, not only just a basic human thing of feeding our children but defense. the national defense, there was a report put out by the pentagon not too long ago that only 25% of the kids between 19 and 24 are eligible for the military because they're not nutritiously fit. our workforce, to compete with what is going on internationally, you know, you
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need calories to get your brain functioning in school. if kids don't have enough food to eat and the right kind of food, they're not going to learn as well as they might. of course, we can't compete with the rest of the world that way. tavis: i'm glad -- >> there are so many reasons why we have to handle this problem. tavis: i'm glad this conversation, jeff, turn the way that it did. it just seems to me that the good lord as i see it sometimes allows those of us who are trying to do something, trying to say something, particularly on behalf of and in defense of the least among us, maybe all of this good fortune that is coming your way is giving you a bigger and broader platform to raise these important issues. >> that's what i'm saying this is what is important about making hit movies is being able to bring attention to this kind of thing. tavis: if you get a chance to raise this issue about our
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babies, vis-a-vis hit movies like "tron: legacy" and "true grit," you keep on making hit movies. >> thanks. tavis: good to have you on, take care of yourself. >> thanks for having me. tavis: jeff bridges with two big hits at the same time. up next, some thoughts about the situation in haiti as we approach one year since the devastating earthquake that struck the poorest nation in this hemisphere. stay with us. >> i remember asking my daughters what do you think about me playing this character and after a long beat, it was my middle daughter jesse said to me, dad, you're an actor. we know that what you do isn't real, you know. so don't worry about that. i said oh, thank you. that was a nice piece of direction from the real movie. and so i jumped into it, the
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brothers would tell you, too, i was resistant to that. i can't believe it but i had that resistance and drag me to the party kind of thing. i'm sure glad i went to that party, man. tavis: when a massive 7.0 earthquake struck haiti one year ago this week, the images beamed around the world not only the devastating nature of the quake itself, but the underlying and ongoing crisis of poverty. people would seize on the crisis and lift haiti out of the disaster and elevate it from its seeming permanent plight. haiti is still struggling to recover from the earthquake and worse yet, it is in the throes of a deadly cholera outbreak. some stats, more than a million people remain displaced in haiti with 1/3 living in tents access to international assistance. speaking of assistance, less than half of the more than $2
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billion pledged has actually been distributed. only 15% of the temporary housing needed has been constructed. bottom line, haiti needs our help now more than ever. if we can build schools and roads and bridges in iraq and afghanistan, then surely we can provide clean drinking water, healthy supplies, and a safe place to sleep for our neighbors in need. our government can do more. we need can do more. that's our show for tonight. until next time, good night from los angeles. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with consumer protection watch dog elizabeth warren plus oscar-winning actor javier bardem. that's next time, we'll see you then. >> all i know is his names james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes.
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>> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more.
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